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Screen Time Solutions – S1 E6

Sitting your toddler down in front of the TV is a go-to solution for busy parents. It can keep your child entertained while you tackle your endless to-do list. But managing screen time, including how much and what your child is watching, presents another challenge. Is there such a thing as too much TV? Also, what programs and apps are available to help them grow and learn?

Dr. Michael Robb, Senior Director of Research at Common Sense Media, joins host Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez. They discuss the most common concerns regarding TV time and tablets, ways to avoid tantrums when it’s time to turn off the device, and how to make the most of child-friendly apps, shows, and digital games.

Podcast Resources:
Common Sense Media
Screen Time in the Age of the Coronavirus
Michael Robb, Ph.D.
Strong Families AZ
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Podcast Credits:

host Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

host Guest: Dr. Michael Robb is the Senior Director of Research at Common Sense Media based in San Francisco, California.


Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. On this podcast, we take just a few minutes to help dispel parenting myths, offer advice and tips from the experts and give you quick links to reliable resources.

As a mom, I know finding accurate and helpful parenting information can be tough. Without the rabbit hole of the internet information overload, we are here to give you some parenting guidance that will help you with raising your little one.

Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of The Parenting Brief. Today, we’re looking at a topic that seems to always be on the minds of both new and experienced parents, and that’s [00:01:00] screen time. There seems to be an endless amount of shows, movies, digital games, and apps for children of all ages.

Some of them seem to be educational and entertaining while some of them have us questioning what our kids should or could be exposed to. There also seems to be an endless amount of information on the do’s and don’ts and plenty of parenting doubt to make us question everything we are doing. We want to make good choices for our children, but we also want to be able to prepare a meal or use the bathroom without a child attached to us or getting upset because we can’t stop and play with them right at that moment.

This is all of us. You are not alone. It’s important to manage our kids’ screen time and help establish and maintain a healthy relationship with TV and devices. It is part of being able to have a healthy and balanced life. It also can feel impossible to know exactly what that means and how to do it. Today we’re joined by an expert in managing healthy screen time. He’s not only a researcher, but a dad. His name is Dr. Michael Robb, [00:02:00] Senior Director of Research at Common Sense Media

Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Robb. I have a million questions as a parent myself, especially because of the age gap in my kiddos, but I will try and not get ahead of myself here. Let’s just start off with setting the stage with the best practice, and then we can get into the realities of screen time.

What are the screen time guidelines, if any, for children birth to five.

Dr. Michael Robb: Good question, there are recommendations that are put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is probably the most popular source for screen time recommendations, but they’re probably not what people think they are. People tend to think of screen use guidelines is just some daily maximum amount that’s acceptable.

But if you look closely at the popular recommendations, including the ones from the AAP, the message that they’re sending is actually [00:03:00] pretty nuanced and not as focused on time as you might expect. So, you know, for kids under 18 months or two years old, there aren’t a lot of great screen time experiences that kids are really going to understand with the exception of video chat or things that are interactive with other people.

So, you know, Zoom chats or FaceTime, things like that are fine. And then as kids get older, it’s not so much a matter of whether it’s an hour or two hours, it’s really more a matter of what it is a kid is using, how it’s getting used, and to what extent, if any, is it replacing things that we know are valuable for kids’ healthy development?

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: That is great, I think that because one of the questions that I know I’ve had and I’ve heard other parents have, even though sometimes I feel really old when I say things like kids these days, but kids these days really have access to more screens than ever before. We have multiple TVs, computers, phones, tablets, and [00:04:00] for many kids, a combination of all of these things in their home.

So when you’re talking about screen time, are we talking about all of these devices equally? Is a screen a screen regardless of the actual device.

Dr. Michael Robb: Great question, and no, we should not be lumping all these things together. You know, if kids are engaged with high quality content that is stoking their curiosity or fueling their imagination, you know, who’s to say that should end just because it hits some kind of arbitrary time limit.

I think part of this is understanding that, you know, when you think about, well, are all screens equal? No, we should not act as if an hour of old DuckTales cartoons is the same thing as an hour of Zooming with a family member or an hour of you know, a kid playing Fortnight with his friends during the pandemic or an hour of a kid doing drawing tutorials on YouTube.

Like these are all very different kinds of uses that satisfy different needs for different kids at different times. So, we should not be acting as if they are all equal. And that’s [00:05:00] why I think the term screen time itself is kind of misleading and not a great metric to understand the quality of kids’ media experiences.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Is there a better word to use or a better description when we’re talking about screen time to really understand how that deviates from just having a screen versus the quality versus quantity of the use?

Dr. Michael Robb: I mean one way to think about it that some people use is thinking about what sometimes called the three Cs: the child, the content and the context.

So, when you’re thinking about the child, you should be thinking about how old they are, what they’re developmentally ready for, kind of where they are socially, physically, linguistically, what are the things that excite your kids? What are the things that bore them? And then combine that with the second C, which is content. Finding a really high-quality piece of media,

something that is well matched to your kid’s developmental level, something that can engage them that maybe has [00:06:00] good production value, and maybe has a child of your age in mind when it was created. And the third C, context, which is, well how is that media getting used? You know, so much of what we think of as learning from media actually comes from learning that happens outside of media.

So, you know, when a parent watches something with a kid or they’re talking about something that a kid has seen or played at the dinner table, that’s a way to expand and extend on the media experience in a way that’s really positive for kids, because that’s a moment where parents can bond with their kids over something that a kid is very passionate about. It’s an opportunity for conversation, and we know that conversation is incredibly important, especially for young children in healthy child development. So, thinking about those three CS altogether might be a better way than just thinking of, you know, do they do two hours or not?

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: I use, and at times I have felt I have done this as a way to justify screen time, but I have definitely enjoyed even learning from some of the shows myself [00:07:00] in how to, you know, like help get my kid ready for a doctor’s appointment and singing one of the songs that I learned on a TV show she likes, I felt like I was cheating a little bit, but now I feel better to know that maybe I did it right.

Dr. Michael Robb: Oh, absolutely. And you know, some of the better shows and products that are out there take parents into consideration when they create their media. So, I’m not sure if you’re referring to Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or not, but if you are, I mean, that’s a great example of a TV show where like they clearly had parents in mind as a secondary audience because they are learning as much as their kids are about how to interact with their kids.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Well, good. I feel better. Daniel Tiger and Doc McStuffins are solid characters in our house. So how does exposure to screen time or the content they are exposed to during screen time affect healthy development in our children?

Dr. Michael Robb: I mean, it depends on what you’re doing and what you’re watching and what you’re using.

So, if you’re watching a lot of garbage or something that’s age inappropriate, you might expect that you’re not going to see as [00:08:00] many positive benefits as you would as if you’d seen your child using, you know, really well thought out content for kids. So, you know, for like the best media out there for things like Sesame Street or other kinds of PBS kids shows, you know, there’s good, documented research to show that consuming those is associated with things like better language learning, social and emotional learning.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: I hear a lot of parents and have experienced it myself as a parent, when you turn that screen off, when you turn the TV off, no matter what is on it, can create a total breakdown in a child. Is there a way to avoid that?

Dr. Michael Robb: I think every parent of a young child has had that experience at one point or another.

I mean, I think what you’re seeing there is that kids are super engaged in what they’re doing, and you know, if you were super engaged in something and somebody just kind of ripped it away from you, you’d probably be upset too. You might not have a tantrum, but you’d be upset about it. And we have to empathize a little bit to understand that that’s what’s happening with [00:09:00] kids.

They’re super engaged and focused and someone’s taken that thing away from them. The things that we can do are to try to prepare them in advance. You know, some people give time warnings, like, you know, we’re going to be turning this off in a minute or two minutes or five minutes. So, people know that it’s coming.

I think one thing that can really help is getting kids to turn it off themselves, to give them agency. In shutting down their devices that worked really well for my kids when they were really young, that I would ask them to you know, like, I want you to be the one to hit the power button. And that would help them make that transition and that break.

And I think a third thing you can do is to try to work with them on finding natural stopping points. So, it’s often the case that if they’re watching a show or a YouTube video or something like there’s a pretty natural stopping point, where it’s the end of an episode, you know, you don’t start the new one, or if you’re playing a game, it’s the end of a level or someplace where you can save your game. But finding those natural breaking points can also take some of the tension out of those moments when you have to, you know, turn off the device and do something

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: where can parents go to learn more [00:10:00] about some of the research you have done and to get more information and tips on screen time and content?

Dr. Michael Robb: So, you can visit our website, or On those sites, you can find a wealth of advice about how to handle certain kinds of media situations.

You know, what might be appropriate for kids at different ages, but you can also just find a ton of reviews for games, TV shows, movies, that are rated based on what we think is good for kids at different ages. And all of those reviews are based on a very extensive research rubric that we’ve developed to really place the child at the center of the review.

Lots of other review sites are really focused on, you know, what’s bad for kids. We also strive to incorporate what’s good for kids.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: That is such an incredible resource. Thank you so much for your time today and being able to provide some information and [00:11:00] quick tips for us today.

Dr. Michael Robb: My pleasure, thank you for having me.

Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of The Parenting Brief. Check out the show notes for more helpful resources on managing screen time. You can also subscribe to The Parenting Brief on your favorite podcast app, like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It’s free, and if you hit the subscribe button, you won’t miss any of the new shows.

And because everyone can use a little parenting help, pass along the episode to the moms or expecting moms in your life. Until next time, this is Jessica. You got this, Mom.

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